Today I welcome author, Gerry McCullough, another very supportive friend of mine.
Gerry McCullough, born and brought up in North Belfast, is an award winning short story writer with a distinguished reputation. She has had around sixty short stories published, broadcast, or collected in anthologies, and around thirty poems published in various magazines. In 2005 her story Primroses won the Cuirt Award (Galway Arts Festival) and she has won, been short listed, and been commended in a number of other literary competitions since.
Gerry lives in Conlig just outside Bangor. She is married to singer-songwriter, writer and radio presenter Raymond McCullough, and has four children.
Gerry’s first novel, Belfast Girls, published by Precious Oil Publications, was a #1 bestseller on paid UK Kindle. Danger Danger, her second Irish romantic thriller, is fast catching up on Belfast Girls, as is her collection of 12 Irish short stories, The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus. Angel in Flight, featuring Angel Murphy, the new Lara Croft, described as ‘a strong minded Belfast girl’, was published in June 2012. Angel in Belfast, the second Angel Murphy thriller, came out in June 2013 and is doing well!
Please tell us more about yourself, anything you like- interests, background etc.
May I begin by saying thanks a lot for inviting me here today, Lily? I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and the followers of your blog.
You are very welcome Gerry!
I was born and brought up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and lived there until I married. I have four grown up children, and a lot of my interests centre round them and their babies. But I’m also what used to be called ‘a great reader’ – in other words, I read a lot, for enjoyment. My mother used to complain that when she asked me to do something I would do it with an open book in one hand, reading as I tried to carry out the task.
Please tell us more about the book or books you would like to feature today.
I now have six books published, and my problem is how to push them all without neglecting any. My first book, Belfast Girls, is the story of three girls who are friends growing up in Belfast after the recent troubles. It’s been a bestseller, reaching the overall top 100 on Amazon UK and being at #1 in its genre for over six months, and it still sells steadily. I’ve recently started a thriller series about a feisty Belfast girl, Angeline Murphy (Angel for short) and so far have written two Angel books, Angel in Flight and Angel in Belfast, with more in the pipeline. And already, in telling you this, I’ve neglected my second book, Danger Danger, a thriller about identical twins; my short stories, The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus; and my YA Time Travel adventure, Lady Molly & The Snapper. So you see how hard it is.
What gave you the idea to write in this genre?
I don’t like to limit my writing to one genre. Belfast Girls is very much a cross genre book – romance, action, danger, friendship, all in one. My other three adult books are Romance Suspense – but then what about the short stories and the YA? I like Romance Suspense myself, so I’m happy to write that. But Belfast Girls simply came out as it came – no particular genre aimed at.
Is there a theme or message in your work that you would like readers to connect with?
Novels aren’t there to teach anything, in my opinion. I hope my books open people’s minds a bit, and let them understand something more about their fellow men; and possibly help them to see why some of my characters believe in God. But I certainly don’t intend to preach a specific message.
What research did you do, and how? Or does it all come from your own imagination?
I already know a lot about the places I use for background (especially Belfast!) so I don’t do a lot of research – occasionally I might check something. The Pre First World War book I’m working on at the moment is the one I’ve spent most time on in terms of research. I needed to get the history right. I’ve looked up the Internet and read a number of books, such as Robert Graves’ marvellous Goodbye to All That. More pleasure than work, really.
What’s the funniest/weirdest thing you’ve done when doing research for your book?
I suppose that would be when I went with my husband to photograph the setting for the accident in Danger Danger, to provide a cover picture for the book. The motorbike and car collide at the junction of several roads in the heart of Belfast, and in trying to work out the details and be sure they were right, and to get a suitable shot, I managed to get stranded in the middle of roaring traffic and almost caused an accident myself!
Do you ever base your characters on people you know?
I suppose every writer must do this to some extent. Most of my characters, both male and female, have something of myself in them. I couldn’t understand them well enough to write about them, otherwise. But I do occasionally draw a character from someone I know. In fact, a friend recently told me that he’d recognized (correctly) one of the characters in Angel in Flight! I just hope I haven’t drawn anyone in a critical way – apart from a few politicians and terrorists in Belfast Girls!
Do you make a plan for your novels, or do you just start writing and see where it goes?
I used to just ‘start writing and see where it goes’, but nowadays I usually have a bit more of a plan. But saying that, it’s very much of a skeleton plan, not more that a few sketchy ideas – and is liable to be changed drastically as I write. I was never the type of person to write out a complete outline first, even when writing essays at school, in spite of teacher after teacher advising the class to do this – but I generally got good enough marks, nevertheless!
Which of your own books/ characters is your favourite and why?
Probably Angel Murphy, because she has had a very difficult, abusive marriage, which broke down, and yet she’s come out of it strong and able to make her life work. I think all women should be more like Angel – refusing to be victims, but handling their problems for themselves and coming out on top.
What has been the most helpful piece of advice you’ve received as a writer?
This came from a lecturer when I was doing my English degree at university. He said that the word which best defined good prose writing was ‘clarity,’ and went on to quote George Orwell, ‘Good prose is like a window pane.’ I try for that.
What books or other projects do you have coming up in future?
I’m in the middle of turning Belfast Girls into a play – working by fits and starts. I’m also expanding a short story set in Ireland before the First World War, into a full length novel. I’m about half way through, and enjoying it very much. At the back of my mind are ideas for two more Angel books, but that won’t be quite yet!
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers?
Just, it’s so nice to actually have readers – I still find it hard to take in that so many people whom I’ve never met enjoy my books. If I knew who you all were, I’d hug you all! Thanks so much – and please go on reading me!
Links to my books
End of Chapter 1 Belfast Girls
The evening was almost at its climax. The show began with evening dress, and now it was to end with evening dress – but this time with Delmara’s most beautiful and exotic lines. Sheila stood up and shook out her frock, a cloud of short ice-blue chiffon, sewn with glittering silver beads and feathers. She and Chrissie between them swept up her hair, allowing a few loose curls to hang down her back and one side of her face, fixed it swiftly into place with two combs, and clipped on more silver feathers. She fastened on long white earrings with a pearly sheen and slipped her feet into the stiletto heeled silver shoes left ready and waiting. She moved over to the doorway for her cue. There was no time to think or to feel the usual butterflies. Chloe came off and she counted to three and went on.
There was an immediate burst of applause.
To the loud music of Snow Patrol, Sheila half floated, half danced along the catwalk, her arms raised ballerina fashion. When she had given sufficient time to allow the audience their fill of gasps and appreciation, she moved back and April and Chloe appeared in frocks with a similar effect of chiffon and feathers, but with differences in style and colour. It was Delmara’s spring look for evening wear and she could tell at once that the audience loved it.
The three girls danced and circled each other, striking dramatic poses as the music died down sufficiently to allow Delmara to comment on the different features of the frocks.
With one part of her mind Sheila was aware of the audience, warm and relaxed now, full of good food and drink, their minds absorbed in beauty and fashion, ready to spend a lot of money. Dimly in the background she heard the sounds of voices shouting and feet running.
The door to the ballroom burst open. People began to scream. It was something Sheila had heard about for years now, the subject of local black humour, but had never before seen. Three figures, black tights pulled over flattened faces as masks, uniformly terrifying in black leather jackets and jeans, surged into the room. The three sub-machine guns cradled in their arms sent deafening bursts of gunfire upwards. Falling plaster dust and stifling clouds of gun smoke filled the air.
For one long second they stood just inside the entrance way, crouched over their weapons, looking round.
One of them stepped forward and grabbed Montgomery Speers by the arm.
“Move it, mister!” he said. He dragged Speers forcefully to one side, the weapon poking him hard in the chest.
A second man gestured roughly with his gun in the general direction of Sheila.
“You!” he said harshly. “Yes, you with the red hair! Get over here!”
Opening of Danger Danger:
The shining red car hurtled across the road towards them. ‘Dec!’ Katie shrieked.
Declan swerved to the left, jammed on his brakes, and felt the Honda bike skid to a shuddering stop. It toppled over. There was a blinding pain in his left leg, then nothing.
Katie felt herself flying through the air. She landed on her left arm. The black leather jacket ripped apart. She felt her head crash into the hard surface of the railing in the centre of the road. Then darkness, and silence.
The motorbike had come up out of nowhere. Steven saw it out of the corner of his eye. He’d thought he could make it across, in the last moments after the lights changed, just before any traffic came from the other direction. But here came this bike, way before anyone could have expected it. He dragged on the wheel, tore the Mazda round. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Annie’s shoulder bang against the passenger door, saw the door burst open, saw her shoot out of the car. He wrenched at the wheel, trying obsessively to regain control of the car. His head hit the windscreen. There was nothing more.
Angel in Flight Chapter 1.
Sounds and movements from the outer door. A voice speaking Greek. A key rattling in the lock.
Angel glanced quickly over to the foot of the stairs. No good. She couldn’t get up there in time. Useless, anyway. It was a dead end.
She ran down the passage. There was a recess to one side. Her outstretched hands clutched the handle of the door and she tugged it open.
She was in, the door pulled shut behind her, her breath coming in ragged gasps.
The outer door opened.
People coming in, footsteps and voices. Louder. Coming in her direction.
She crouched down motionless.
Footsteps growing still louder. Voices almost in her ear.
The steps went past, the voices were no longer close beside her.
The men opened the door of a room at the other end of the passage. In another moment they had gone in.
* * * * *
Angel pressed further back into the closet. It was deep, a small room. Only one door. No windows. A collection of junk filling up the space, pieces of household equipment. Brushes, a mop-bucket which cut her shin.
She tried to flatten herself against the rear wall. There was something in her way. She found herself backing into it.
Old clothes. A pile of them, propped against the back wall. She turned round, feeling cautiously with one hand.
She didn’t want to believe it.
Up from the depths, in spite of her efforts to push it down, came realisation.
She moved her hand carefully round. Something very cold.
She knew then.
Outside the closet, all was quiet.
Her exploring hands must have unbalanced it.
The dreadful bundle fell forward, the cold face kissing hers, the dead arms embracing her.
How did she manage not to scream?
The two men had closed their door. When she looked out of the closet there was no light from that direction, only a few faint beams from the moon shining through a nearby window. She thrust the closet door open. Half lifted, half dragged the body forward until the faint moonlight fell directly on the white face.
She recognised him immediately.
There was no doubt that he was dead.